Mental Illness Among Kids and Teenagers in South Asia - A First Hand Perspective
30. November 2018 at 09:01
This article provides the author's point of view and observance of how mental illness grows in South Asian Society. It shares the background of mental illness and how it grows in South Asian society. Furthermore, the article suggests some solutions to fight mental illness in South Asia.What is Mental Illness?
Mental illnesses are health conditions that lead to extreme changes in one’s thinking, emotions, and behavior. Some of the most common reasons for mental illness include distress, family problem, workload or work problems, bullying, and other social problems. Serious mental illnesses can lead to self-harm or even suicide.
Background of Mental Illness in South Asian Society
Mental illness does not become a reality overnight. It is a thing that develops in humans when they continuously face stress, bullying or any other problems that lead to depression. In South Asian countries --India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc-- mental illness is considered a “myth.” It is not taken seriously which causes many people to fight depression, anxiety, and other types of mental illnesses for years. For example, if teenagers talk to their parents about mental illness, they are told that mental illness is a “white people thing.” This article will share some of the most common things that lead to mental illness in desi society, how mental illness is seen by the society, and what should be done to improve mental health in the society.
Reasons for Mental Illness in South Asian Society
It is not wrong to say that people accept to live with mental illness in South Asia. It is not wrong to say that judging others is almost a worship practiced in our society. And finally, it is not wrong to say that people in our society judge others from mother’s lap to the grave.
Whenever a kid is born, his/her physical characteristics will be compared to his cousins or siblings. All the guests who will come to congratulate the kid’s parents will judge the kid’s color, weight, and other physical characteristics. The kid’s height, how fast the teeth come out, and how good or bad he/she is at speaking, all these things will be judged and told to the kid’s parents as the kid is growing up.
As kids grow up and start going to school they will be told how their older cousins, when they were in kindergarten, always got the best grades. This automatically pressurizes a four or five years old and the kids are pushed by their parents to get good grades. With the girls specifically, they are also told to cover their heads and most of the times told that they cannot uncover their head in school no matter how warm it is. The culture of hitting kids in the school and at home makes their lives even worse. In most of the areas of South Asia, despite it is against the law, kids are beaten by both parents and teachers for various reasons.
It is the unrealistic concept in the minds of people that if you are strict to kids, beat them and teach them to live in fear they will grow up respecting everyone and will make their parents and teachers proud. In the religious schools, the conditions are even worse. Religious teachers use a gas pipe or a wood stick to beat the kids.
Kids enter teenage facing all these abuses and there is more to come. As kids enter teenage years, they are already supposed to act like adults. They cannot say no to their parents or uncles or teachers. And this concept is used the most when teenagers try to choose their areas of study in high school. In a typical household, a girl is supposed to choose Biology and a guy is supposed to choose either biology or computer science. From a very young age, they are told by their parents that they will be doctors, engineers or lawyers.
This isn’t the hardest part. The life of kids in South Asian society becomes miserable when they get their ninth grade report card. A list of people will call the kid’s parents and judge their scores. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, every one hour a student commits suicide in India. A report presented by Times of India claims that failure in exams or low scores in exams are the biggest reasons why students commit suicide in India. (Saha) Similar conditions are seen in neighboring countries Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Getting married in teenage years is still a big norm in South Asia. Many teenagers have to give up their education and other dreams for the sake of marriage. Many are forcibly engaged to someone they don’t like and told to wait until it's their time to get married. Many teenagers commit suicide or live with mental illness because of all the relationship norms set by the people in South Asian society.
Society’s Behavior Towards Mental Illness
Mental illness is known as a “white people thing” in South Asian society. The problem starts with how the culture tells us to raise kids. Most of the kids grow up hiding their problems from their parents, or at least from father, because of their strictness. Kids prefer to hide their pain, stress, and anxiety than to tell anyone.
Many bring in religion to justify that there is no such thing called depression or anxiety. In this situation, it becomes even harder for the kids to talk about mental illness. If teenagers talk to their parents in such situation they are told that there is no such thing called mental illness and that they must focus on praying. Such mentality makes the situation even worse and those kids have to continue living with mental illness.
Like many other cultures, the South Asian culture does not allow people to reveal their mental illness. In most parts of the region, it is also considered “shameful” to go to psychiatrists. If one's visits to a psychiatrist have been revealed he will be shamed by the people and will be told that he is losing his trust in God.
Proper Parenting - The most dangerous thing about South Asian culture is the way kids are brought up. While growing up, kids constantly hear that it is better to hide your problems and keep them to yourself. In order to eliminate the mental illness, it is important that parents teach their kids to open up about the problems they are facing. It is important for the fathers to create a kind of relationship with the children where kids don’t hesitate sharing their problems with father or mother.
Awareness - The fight against mental illness cannot be achieved until “the shaming” culture is eliminated from South Asia. It is important to bring awareness about mental health issues in the region. Professions in the mental health field need to step up and bring awareness about issues related to mental health.
Education - Schools are there to make lives better but unfortunately in South Asian culture it is the opposite. In fact, most of the mental health issues among teenagers are related to school. The judgment of grades, strictness of parents, and physical abuse by teachers are the biggest causes of depression among teenagers. In this matter, it is important for parents to take a legal step if there is any verbal or physical abuse happening against their kids. It is important for parents to know that if their kids scored lower than other kids in class, it does not mean they have the right to bully your kids. Both parents and school managements need to take a legal step against the issues of bullying that are related to student’s success. Furthermore, it is important to educate kids about mental illness in schools. Because only education can bring awareness in the society and can help fighting mental illness
Religion- Religion is there to help human beings. Faith supports humans to stay strong in difficult times and be patient. But in South Asian society faith is used to stop kids from talking about their mental illness. It is important for people to understand that if their kids are fighting mental illness or they have any problem that could lead to mental illness it is better to sit with them and talk about the issue. It is not appropriate to tell kids that there is no concept of mental illness in their religion.